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December 2nd, 2010
06:18 PM ET

My take: Where's the outrage over Noah's Ark park?

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

A four-minute video that includes an eleven-second depiction of a crucifix crawling with ants has been removed from the “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture” exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery, but it is still stirring up controversy in Washington, DC.

First, incoming House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Virginia) blasted the National Portrait Gallery for its “obvious attempt to offend Christians during the Christmas season,” while the incoming House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and other Republicans threatened to scrutinize Smithsonian funding next year.

Then Martin Sullivan, who directs the National Portrait Gallery, said “it was not the museum’s intention to offend” but pulled the video anyway, which prompted the liberal group, People for the American Way, to accuse Republican critics of the exhibit of censorship: “This new GOP leadership wants a government that stays out of people’s lives when it comes to health care and unemployment benefits, but they show no scruples about using government power to censor the free expression of those they disagree with.”

I write not to raise First Amendment questions about elected officials transforming themselves into self-appointed curators, but to ask whether these officials are really concerned (as they claim) about the use of taxpayer funds to weigh on matters of the spirit.

In a press release yesterday, Gov. Steve Beshear of Kentucky announced that his state had entered into a deal with the folks behind the Creation Museum to break ground for Ark Encounter, a $150 million theme park complete with “a full-scale model of Noah’s Ark.”

Rather than speaking of his state's support of this group’s creationist agenda, Gov. Beshear spoke of employing 900 workers and drawing 1.6 million visitors a year. According to the Lexington Herald-Leader, however, the tax breaks offered by the state to Ark Encounter, as the theme park is being called, “could surpass $37 million.”

The entire exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery (of which the brief clip by the late artist David Wojnarowicz was a small part), cost, by contrast, $750,000, and all of that from private donations.

So my question to Representatives Boehner and Cantor, and to Glenn Beck and others who are working themselves up into a lather over this supposed attack on Christianity, is this: Are you equally outraged over millions in tax breaks to a group promoting fundamentalism? 

Would you be outraged at all if the clip in question concerned not an "antsy Christ" but an "antsy Buddha" or an "antsy Christopher Hitchens"? And how loud would the outrage be in Washington if Kentucky's governor was offering millions in tax incentives to a Hare Krishna theme park? Or a Disney Land of Atheism?

Beyond these questions of basic fairness, I have a more practical question, this time for Belief Blog readers: Would you pay good money to see a 500-foot-long replica of Noah's Ark?

I hate to sound like one of Noah's scoffers in Genesis, but the last time I was at the Holy Land Experience in Orlando, it wasn't exactly crowded. And that Bible theme park is in Orlando, Florida, not Grant County, Kentucky.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Art • Bible • Church and state • Culture wars • Fundamentalism • Opinion • United States

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soundoff (974 Responses)
  1. Eric

    I think Prothero conflates two ideas. First, there is the idea of outrage over art that seeks to make a point by attempting to offend people who believe a religion. Second, there is the idea of public funding going to something with a religious theme. I don't like either - but as a cursory scan through the comments demonstrates, it seems as though most people don't mind disparaging and mocking anything they dislike on a public forum.

    December 3, 2010 at 12:40 am |
    • Frogist

      @Eric: The purpose of the Wojnarowicz piece was not to offend religious people. It was to make a commentary about the isolation and suffering of living with AIDS. There is religious imagery that people will find disturbing, but I don't think the point is specifically to target christians, which is what most people, like Boehner, who have never seen the piece, assert.

      December 3, 2010 at 12:11 pm |
  2. Reality

    Come on Professor, get to the obvious historical situation with the Ark and Judaism with some wholesome comments about the myth worlds of Disney and the Jewish scribes.

    A primer for your perusal:

    New Torah For Modern Minds

    origin: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20E1EFE35540C7A8CDDAA0894DA404482

    "Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling nation.

    Such startling propositions – the product of findings by archaeologists digging in Israel and its environs over the last 25 years – have gained wide acceptance among non-Orthodox rabbis. But there has been no attempt to disseminate these ideas or to discuss them with the laity – until now.

    The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents the 1.5 million Conservative Jews in the United States, has just issued a new Torah and commentary, the first for Conservatives in more than 60 years. Called "Etz Hayim" ("Tree of Life" in Hebrew), it offers an interpretation that incorporates the latest findings from archaeology, philology, anthropology and the study of ancient cultures. To the editors who worked on the book, it represents one of the boldest efforts ever to introduce into the religious mainstream a view of the Bible as a human rather than divine doc-ument. "

    "These essays, perused during uninspired sermons or Torah readings at Sabbath services, will no doubt surprise many congregants. For instance, an essay on Ancient Near Eastern Mythology," by Robert Wexler, president of the University of Judaism in Los Angeles, states that on the basis of modern scholarship, it seems unlikely that the story of Genesis originated in Palestine. More likely, Mr. Wexler says, it arose in Mesopotamia, the influence of which is most apparent in the story of the Flood, which probably grew out of the periodic overflowing of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The story of Noah, Mr. Wexler adds, was probably borrowed from the Mesopotamian epic Gilgamesh. "

    December 3, 2010 at 12:32 am |
  3. wilburn

    Ok, I am a believer in the Bible, but I don't like the idea if the government supporting or endorsing religion. If they support something I agree with, they can just as easily come against me if I have some "unpopular" belief. Let the government be neutral toward religion.

    December 3, 2010 at 12:31 am |
    • Frogist

      @wilburn: That's the first time I've heard a Christian believer actually say that on this board. What absolutely good sense.

      December 3, 2010 at 12:04 pm |
  4. ems

    Figures.........s. prothero teaches at Boston College!

    December 3, 2010 at 12:29 am |
    • Reality

      The professor teaches at Boston University not Boston College.

      "Boston University (BU) is a private research university located in Boston, Massachusetts. The university is historically affiliated[6][7] with the United Methodist Church,[8][9][10] but describes itself as nonsectarian.[11] With more than 4,000 faculty members and more than 31,000 students, Boston University is one of the largest private universities in the United States[12] and one of Boston's largest employers.[13]"

      "Boston College (BC) is a private Roman Catholic Jesuit research university located in the village of Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, USA. It has 9,200 full-time undergraduates and 4,000 graduate students. Its name reflects its early history as a liberal arts college and preparatory school in Boston's South End. It is a member of the 568 Group and the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities. Its main campus is a historic district and features some of the earliest examples of collegiate gothic architecture in North America."

      December 3, 2010 at 12:38 am |
  5. JT

    Will they have water surrounding this big wooden boat? If so, to make it more realistic, they should have the bloated decaying bodies of all the drowned babies, children, men and women that their genocidal god slaughtered floating all around.

    December 3, 2010 at 12:29 am |
  6. McJesus

    That museum has dinosaurs and people together. Seriously. They do. Lets just face it. They are ignorant and will always be ignorant. Lets just leave them be and let them live in their delusion. Our job is to keep them at arms length, laugh at them when we can, and focus on improving medicine and technology. Sure they'll be beating us over the head all the while, but they use computers and rely on antibiotics. They are just too darn blind to realize that Jesus didn't give them their 80+ year life span. In biblical times few were lucky enough to survive birth. So much for the whole loving god idea.

    December 3, 2010 at 12:23 am |
    • JPopNC

      "Jesus didn't give us our 80+ year lifespans"???? If you knew the history, you'd be aware Noah lived to be like 400+ years old. Mankind's lifespan has LESSENED over the years, not increased.

      December 3, 2010 at 1:12 am |
    • Nick

      JponNc, come on, really? There is no evidence what-so-ever of anybody living that long. There is clear evidense that people are now living longer then ever thanks to medical advances. I don't even know why I'm responding to your comment other then the fact that it is astoundingly ignorant. Using a bible story about Noah as unrefutable evidence does not work in any rational argument. There are no skeletal human remains from antiquity that show that any human being living to be 400 years old and I guarantee you that no scientist would cover up a find like that.

      December 3, 2010 at 3:14 am |
  7. arejaye

    The park doesn't outrage me. I'm not religious, but not anti religious either, but I DID find it outragously funny that they planned to include dinosaurs. Funny how all those bones found all over the world NEVER got mentioned in the Bible as livin' critters. hmmmm Guess it was easier back in the day to write BS than spell T-Rex lol

    December 3, 2010 at 12:17 am |
    • Brett

      Jesus had a pet T-Rex don't you know?

      December 3, 2010 at 12:22 am |
    • Dr RatstaR

      Jesus and Alley Oop were neighbors.

      December 3, 2010 at 12:29 am |
    • Medardus

      I take it you've never googled "Raptor Jesus?"

      December 3, 2010 at 8:24 am |
  8. Jeremy

    I kind of have a feeling that you are trying to paint Republicans as a bunch of conservative religious fundamentalist nut jobs. Got news for ya buddy. Gov. Beshear of Kentucky is a Democrat.

    December 3, 2010 at 12:10 am |
    • Brett

      He's a DINO.

      December 3, 2010 at 12:13 am |
    • McJesus

      Party affiliation doesn't matter. The political dichotomy is just a smoke screen to keep the people split and distracted on wedge issues that have minimal impact on the average citizen's daily lives. Meanwhile with the mass distraction going on, both parties are raping the taxpayer blind and filling their own pockets.

      December 3, 2010 at 12:18 am |
  9. thorrsman

    "Are you equally outraged over millions in tax breaks to a group promoting fundamentalism?"

    No. THIS project has the possibility of creating jobs and providing income to the state. Possibility. A Bible-themed "Ark Encounter" doesn't float my boat, but there is a huge number of Christians in this country who might just like to see that sort of thing.

    December 3, 2010 at 12:06 am |
    • Brett

      Great. Well then as not to violate the 1st Amendment by only granting government funds to one religion, I say the state should fund an Islamic theme park next. Instead of a bean bag toss, you can throw stones at infidels.

      December 3, 2010 at 12:12 am |
    • thorrsman

      @Brett. This does not violate the !st Amendment. Read it and see. There is no "Establishment" of a religion in this. A simple business deal between the State of Kentucky (which is NOT congress) and the owners of this "museum". This "Creation Museum" is not, after all, a church, now is it? That they have a religious point of view is immaterial.

      December 3, 2010 at 12:16 am |
    • NL

      Brett-
      Go great with the burning witches at the stake Christian display. I wonder if they reenact that over in Salem?

      December 3, 2010 at 12:19 am |
    • Brett

      @thorrsman Great, if it's a business deal and has nothing to do with religion, then an Islamic based theme park should have no opposition to it! It will bring millions of Muslims from around the world and boost the economy. Let's break ground tomorrow in the middle of Kentucky.

      December 3, 2010 at 12:19 am |
    • Sunny

      Using you logic, why don't we give strip clubs a tax break? It also creates jobs and there are millions of men in this country who will vist one.

      December 3, 2010 at 4:12 am |
    • Zeus

      yayayay more strip clubs!!!!

      December 3, 2010 at 4:48 am |
    • Fred

      But looking at the other side, it will spend Christian money on something that creates jobs at least. Otherwise they would all being sending their money to support GOD/Tea Party candidates who will do real evil. This is the social equivalent of giving a bully a toy to keep from hurting the other kids.

      December 3, 2010 at 5:59 am |
    • Frogist

      @thorrsman: Don't the huge number of Smithsonian inst!tutions also provide jobs? Why remove funding for that which accomodates all viewpoints but provide funding for Creation museum which tolerates only one religious viewpoint?

      December 3, 2010 at 11:53 am |
    • NL

      thorrsman-
      Define what a church is, then. If they build this place as a celebration to a Christian belief that God once cleansed the world of evil then mostly Christians will go there, just like church. They will learn about and have their faith bolstered by going there, just like church. They will doubtlessly hear sermonizing about the religious significance of the ark story, just like church. There will be some folks so overcome by the experience that they will be praying, singing praise, and performing other forms of worship right in the building, right, again just like church. At the very least this project will resemble some kind of large-scale, permanent religious pagent, like a children's nativity play or a passion reenactment, which you can see in churches everywhere, right?

      Looks like, smells like, and quacks like I say!

      place where Christians get together to learn about their religion, pray,

      December 3, 2010 at 1:09 pm |
    • heliocracy

      @thorrsman: The fact that the State of Kentucky is not congress is irrelevant. The 14th Amendment applies the Bill of Rights to state and local governments. Your kind of half-remembered, high-school level understanding of government and government philosophy is what makes things like the Tea Party possible.

      December 4, 2010 at 11:47 pm |
  10. JoeDallas

    I have never understood why people will gladly believe self contradictory stories about creation (Genesis contains 2 different creation stories) stories written on paper by people, but will deny the stories written in the rocks, seas, and stars that were written by the Creator that tell of the billions of years of creation. The book stories taken in simple minded literalness make God look like a near-human scale special effects magician. The story of the universe writter across the billions of galaxies through eons of time tell a far more magnificent and awe inspiring story. Why would "true beleivers" want to make God look so cheesy?

    Some "Christians" are the same as Taliban, just different in details and clothing.

    December 3, 2010 at 12:05 am |
    • mcore

      Excellent point. The story of the cosmos is beautifully written everywhere you look in the natural world – in stellar nebulae, in ocean sediments, in the rocks beneath our feet, within our very own DNA. It's a far more compelling, and far, far more sublime story than the one you find in the bible, a fragmented, self- contradicting volume of myths, murder and fuzzy history written by people completely lacking in the most basic understanding of the nature of the universe.

      December 3, 2010 at 7:59 am |
  11. David

    One question I find slightly odd:

    "Would you be outraged at all if the clip in question concerned not an "antsy Christ" but an "antsy Buddha" or an "antsy Christopher Hitchens?"

    No, because they are not Buddhist and assumedly not of any personal relation to Hitchens. So naturally they wouldn't be [as] outraged, just as most atheists wouldn't give a hoot about the crucifix issue. But it would be understandable if Buddhists were. As for Hitchens, well that's a different issue. It's just a portrayal of some random person as opposed to a revered figure.

    December 3, 2010 at 12:05 am |
  12. RUReal

    What is sick is that our government would PAY for someone to desicrate the symbol of the faith held by the majority of our citizens, while using threats and intimidation to stop another from desicrating the Muslim symbol of thiers (that nut job that wanted to burn the Korans). Regardless of your faith or lack there of, that is just backwards crazy time.

    December 3, 2010 at 12:04 am |
    • Frogist

      @RUReal: There is a difference between artistic expression and setting out to offend and instigate violence against another religion. The Hide/Seek exhibit and the video by Mr Wojnarowicz were a commentary on gender and the AIDS crisis which used the crucifix as a symbol (for all of about a minute) and which can be interpreted very openly to mean many things including how suffering like that of Christ should be met with compassion instead of hate. While Jones and his shenanigans was a dangerous and blatant taunt of muslim american citizens. How you cannot see the difference is astonishing.

      December 3, 2010 at 11:39 am |
  13. Corbijn

    Did Noah need this much money to build his ark? Did he need a theme park with it? Didn't he basically build it by himself with his sons? I say if they want to build this, they do it the right way. Then they pack the amusement park with "Christians", flood the park (those who can't get on the boat can suffer the same fate as the original flood) then see if it's really sea worthy while also testing if the "Christians" who made it on the boat can survive 40 days and 40 nights with nothing but faith. We all know all the animals wouldn't be down for this so the "Christians" who made it on the boat can play their parts. This could be like a cross between a Mel Gibson movie and a reality show. If you're gonna do something do it right especially if I have to contribute to the bill!

    December 3, 2010 at 12:03 am |
    • Peace2All

      @Corbijn

      Hmmm.... Interesting idea...! 🙂

      Peace...

      December 3, 2010 at 1:02 am |
  14. Justin

    How about both sides treat each other with a little more kindness? For those who believe God, He commands you to love. For those who do not, perhaps you can treat people who disagree with you with a little more respect. Either way, this venom is ignorant and useless. We can all be more considerate, myself included.

    December 3, 2010 at 12:02 am |
    • NL

      The illogic of believing in the supernatural is a hard pill for some to swallow, no matter how much you sugarcoat it with politeness and patience. Sometimes it's less painful for all concerned if the pretense that the supernatural is a valid belief is just ripped off quickly, like a bandage.

      With some people, simply saying that you disagree that God exists is insult beyond the pale, probably because they don't allow themselves to even entertain the notion. What they find a vulgar idea for themselves they judge all for having, and this is where many believers come to assume that atheists are somehow 'hateful' as a rule, see?

      December 3, 2010 at 12:56 pm |
  15. Le Sceptique

    What seriously (!) concerns me about this sort of thread, which continues to be reproduced everywhere, esp. on YouTube, is that one side continues simply to hold their hands over their ears and say "nah-nah-nah-nah-NAH-nah!!!" –What happens now? Once some people refuse to even engage in rational speech, where do we go next? What kind of war will this be, once one side has decided to switch off its brain?

    December 2, 2010 at 11:59 pm |
  16. Sean Russell

    Notice how every time some atheists want to put up billboard, or muslims want to build a prayer center, or a gay guy starts a gays only resort or something; these right wingers get all up in arms. It's comes down to a different world view – they believe everybody – moderate to liberal- who doesn't think the same on everything as they; is evil and not worthy of civil rights. The rest of us just want to live and let live. They can't stand that.

    December 2, 2010 at 11:52 pm |
    • JT

      True. When a minority group comes along asking for equal rights that Christians have always enjoyed, all the sudden Christians are screaming persecution.

      December 3, 2010 at 12:39 am |
    • David

      "they believe everybody – moderate to liberal- who doesn't think the same on everything as they; is evil and not worthy of civil rights. The rest of us just want to live and let live. They can't stand that."

      lol, holy crap. Do yourself a favour and google "strawman fallacy".

      December 3, 2010 at 3:43 am |
  17. Tony Rodolakis

    God will always love you more than God loves God. The greatest enemy of man is his fear of swallowing his pride. Swallow your pride or else your pride will swallow you. Swallow your pride before your pride swallows you because if you don't swallow it it will swallow you. Swallow it now, you'll be glad you did. God bless you, and peace.

    December 2, 2010 at 11:50 pm |
    • JT

      So, just to be clear, you swallow. Gottcha.

      December 3, 2010 at 12:34 am |
    • Peace2All

      @Tony Rodolakis

      Say wut...? 😯

      December 3, 2010 at 1:00 am |
    • Ladyblahblah

      I also hear that pride has lots of protein and makes your hair healthier if you swallow lots of it. Sometimes though, I feel like pride tastes like what it's been eating that day, which is a little gross, but may just be in my head, so to speak.

      December 3, 2010 at 1:38 am |
    • Zeus

      your girlfriend swallowed my 'pride' last night

      December 3, 2010 at 4:44 am |
    • NL

      Tony Rodolakis-
      Any you are saying that there is no pride in remaining faithful to your religious beliefs? That it does not hurt your pride when your beliefs are being questioned and you begin to appear mistaken? Why not try swallowing some of your own pride and humble yourself by admitting that religion is just a guess?

      December 3, 2010 at 12:32 pm |
  18. Brett

    Religion is a multi-billion dollar industry backed by powerful special interests in Washington.

    December 2, 2010 at 11:48 pm |
    • thorrsman

      @Brett

      All interests in Washington think they are special. It does not matter if it is the Avocado Lobby, PETA or those supporting left-handed cross-dressers.

      December 3, 2010 at 12:09 am |
    • Dr RatstaR

      P. T. Barnum was in the wrong business.

      December 3, 2010 at 12:19 am |
    • David

      Ah the cry of the basement-dwelling nouveau-intellectual. Rant about how some particular group you are against is very large, profitable, powerful (regardless of its actual status), and thus somehow necessarily bad. You probably also rant about how Hollywood is run by Jews and Zionists and about secret orders, yadda yadda.

      December 3, 2010 at 3:41 am |
    • Frogist

      @David: Again with the legerdemain. Anyone who can't understand the vast influence that religion and their advocates has in this country shouldn't be calling someone else a "basement-dwelling nouveau-intellectual". Actually you probably shouldn't be calling them that anyway. It's rude.

      December 3, 2010 at 11:26 am |
  19. Steve

    I once paid money to visit Snow White's castle so I guess I'd pay to see Noah 's Ark too, it's really no different. I'm just not sure the project deserves millions in tax breaks.

    December 2, 2010 at 11:34 pm |
    • NL

      Maybe it'll come in handy when the oceans sweep over the continent in 2012, if they can finish it on time?

      December 2, 2010 at 11:47 pm |
    • Steve

      NL – This makes total sense now. They're pretending it's for a museum but they're actually preparing for end times.

      December 3, 2010 at 11:31 am |
    • NL

      Steve-
      Then shouldn't they be building it in the Himalayas? That worked in the movie, after all.

      December 3, 2010 at 12:24 pm |
    • Chase Dorway

      Everyone- If preparing for end days, shouldn't they have started it much earlier?

      December 3, 2010 at 4:24 pm |
  20. Evan Westphal

    Oh, Kentucky! I love my state, but how can anyone think this is excusable? This is nothing but an abomination of religion, our culture, and the state.

    December 2, 2010 at 11:32 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.